Friday, September 28, 2007

Welcome to “Scratch”

One of my friends I have known the longest in my life is named Neal Hitch, a Columbus, Ohio resident and veteran of Kirkwood, our beloved church camp in Wilmington, Ohio. Neal and I have enjoyed a friendship of over 30 years; however, we have occasionally gone many, many years not seeing each other or keeping in good correspondence. But in the last couple of years, no doubt stemming from the deaths of a charismatic parent for both of us, we have sought reunion and rekindled an important friendship.

Late in the summer of 2006, Neal stopped through Cincinnati for breakfast and told me about an exciting program he had just completed in England combining history and architecture. It sounded like just the thing I might want to do the following summer in 2007! Neal offered to write a recommendation for me, but it had to be in at the beginning of March he said.

We went back to circling in our own orbits after that, and it was just a few months later that the fateful article appeared in The New Yorker about KA that led my friend Peter to call Eric, the headmaster at KA, suggesting he meet this “younger friend” urging Eric that he would indeed want me to join the founding faculty of his “exciting venture.” Soon Eric would email me, asking for the resume; a January, 2007 meeting would be set, and wheels set in motion. The official job interview would take place at Le Bernardin, often cited as the finest restaurant in New York (courtesy of the largesse of my friends Anne and Peter!). That night Eric casually mentioned to me that there was an opening to head the History Department at KA. Oh, please pass the expensive amuses bouches, please? Gulp.

As I spent January and February pondering whether the exodus from New York to Jordan was really the next “assignment” for me, I called my friend Neal to tell him that I was not going to apply for the cool British history/architecture program, but that I hadn’t actually been procrastinating, just sitting on top of a cosmic earthquake instead. I might need to move instead of spending the summer studying the English Country Home. I had not disclosed to many people that the opportunity at KA was opening before me—I was figuring it all out for myself still. But I revealed to Neal that there was this “situation,” an opportunity to really change my life and broaden my horizons. Dare I jump at the chance? I would get to help start a school—from scratch!

Neal couldn’t believe the story—not because it was that outrageous—but because he was undergoing the very same thought process with a similar situation and opportunity! What a strange coincidence and parallel, that two erstwhile, lifelong friends both faced opportunities to give up everything they knew, move to a new place, and start fresh, scary, but utterly new chapters. Neal had heard about a job opening, a museum directorship on a Caribbean island, and decided to pursue the job application. Neal would get to help resurrect a museum—practically from scratch!

Over the next few weeks Neal and I talked often; in fact, if I had added up all our conversations of the last 20 years, I am pretty darn sure that the conversations in late winter, 2007, amounted to several decades-worth of our catch-up conversations. And the conversations were not just checking in, asking about family, reminiscing about our youth—these were probing, helpful, supportive conversations of two friends, both over 40, trying to figure out directions in life. We talked about “the signs” if the job was the right answer—how do we even know what is the right answer. We rejoiced in the offers of the jobs for each other—and we worried about how our decisions would affect family and friends. But most of all, we supported each other and helped each other think through the ramifications. These were heady, memorable discussions. We had known each other since roughly the age of 11, and finally gotten to be the friend and mate we had always supposed we could be for one another.

I moved at the end of July; Neal moved at the beginning of September. I started a blog; Neal even borrowed the backdrop of this blog for the inauguaration of his on-line journal. Neal traveled the 100 miles between Columbus and Cincinnati for a good-bye party the day before I stepped on that plane in July; my sister traveled the 100 miles from Cincinnati to Columbus to bid our friend adieu at his good-bye party. In our blogs we both noted the heat in our new surroundings, and both acknowledged the pang of missing not only family and friends, but the absence of those basic, American creature-comforts that smooth over the bumps in life.

In his introductory blog entry (if you would like to visit Neal’s blog, the address is Neal quoted a movie I have never seen, but a line that resonates with both of us. The movie is Angel Eyes with Jennifer Lopez and Jim Caviezel, and Neal quotes a line when Jim's character moves into a dump and says:

"Do you know when someone says, ‘let's start from scratch?’
Well, this is what it looks like. This is scratch."

I loved the line.

Welcome to Scratch!

Neal’s “scratch” is trying to get a house and a museum on a picture-postcard island in shape. My “scratch” is trying to teach young people to think—young people who have never had to think. My “scratch” is kind of intellectual archaeology, digging into their brains, encouraging them to observe the world around them, connect to that world, and help them realize that they are historians craving to understand the vicissitudes of world events! Some of my students are from poor families, just a few years away from nomadic Bedouin existence. Some of my students are heirs to thrones in Kuwait and Bahrain. None has really enjoyed the liberation of independent thinking.


In the last two weeks I have offered my first quiz—after what I believed to be careful preparation, we took that quiz! Let me just offer a few of their answers to questions:

Student Examples from The First Quiz

Why did the Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer kill himself in 1994?

“Kevin Carter”

On the first day of school I stated that the goal of this History class was to wonder what it felt like to live at a particular time in history. We have now studied 7 things that took place at particular times in history. Which of these “ cultural artifacts” (i.e. paintings, movies, etc.) we have studied best helps you understand what it felt like to live in another time period? Choose one of these, and explain how it specifically helps you stand in another historical period well.

“It helps me to know how to ask questions and what are questions should I ask and have the answer to be able to study anything that related to history and to explain it in a historical way.”

“The movie clip about Ghandi really helped me live in that time period because the actor playing Ghandi put so much emotion and thoughts to him getting kiked off the train because of his race.”

“The Great Cat Massacre describes the chaos and how they delt with the problem.”

“Paintings, I think is the best one helped me and I think you too, because you gave us a lot of paintings these days, so you care about paintings, and me, I have choosen the paintings, because they really have a good meaning, like the position, the colours, the question we ask, they help me understand.”

“I think the painting The First Stage of Cruelty it is like you imagine yourself there at that precise moment in time.”

“Stage One of Cruelty I really felt like I understood the time period and what was going on in the picture.”

“With The Great Cat Massacre back then it was extremely different and maybe even hard and imagining myself there at the time I feel so bad and so disgusted.”

“The First Stage of Cruelty helped me to know what sth happened in the past can change the historian’s point about the future.”

“Movies help me a lot to understand and to stand in another historical well because you can see everything from a screen and it is really good way to know what happened in the past and what is going to happen. You hear, you see, and you understand from watching movies. You just feel like you were there and you saw everything that happened. And you forget that you are on earth in our time, you feel like you watched everything that happened in the past when you are watching movies.”

In another question I asked what particular fact had helped them understand a time period better:

“This whole week was perfect for me because I truly liked history and your way of teaching really helped me thank you very much I truly appreciate it, and because of this whole thing and my grades are pretty good I everyday call my mom and tell her about how I did and of course or I hope so she is proud of me. I learned a lot about the Lebanese article because it gives you other opinions and how they feel at their country with the war thing and what to do with the history classes.”

Welcome to Scratch.

More to come…

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sick Bay

I have had a few emails inquring when the next installment will be...

Sorry, I have been wiped out by a bad cold the last few days. On Thursday, a lovely hacking cough took hold in my body, followed by all the fun symptoms of sore throat, runny nose, and fever. Yesterday I remembered we had a doctor on campus, so I visited him and learned I have a throat infection. Whatever he gave me knocked me out, although I do have a vague recollection of teaching yesterday...

I hope to be back in blog-fashion tomorrow...

I have stories to tell--one I will tell you about a little now and then come back to it.

We were discussing all the benefits and consequences of the so-called Neolithic Revolution, i.e. that process in which pre-historic humans discovered/invented agriculture (don't yawn--it is important if you think about it) and I asked, "what are some other new trends that came from farming?" And one of my young scholars offered, "Plastic Surgery!"

Well. See--there are still some original answers to be found!

Tonight His Majesty is coming for iftar. I did not get placed at his table, but, I am only a few feet away!

I'll be in better form tomorrow to relay the beauties and nuances andt struggles of teaching.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Where are you from?

Where are you from?

Could there not be a more innocuous question?

Four weeks ago, as the shiny-as-a-new-penny KA students moved into the dormitories, that query was probably the most frequently asked. Undoubtedly, it could spark conversation from the shyest of students, and especially for those of us from far away, quickly add mystique and excitement to our new surroundings. (“Egypt? Really? How exciting!”)

But in those first few days, this benign question sparked many more questions in me.

As I overheard a colleague volley the question to a young man, “Where are you from?” the student replied, “Palestine.”

His answer struck me as strange. Wait—I had just been talking to the same young man as he moved suitcases into the dorm, and as we talked, he told me that he had just been living in Virginia, and before that Atlanta. We had even shared some of our favorite BBQ places in the South—what a great bonding experience!! (Okay, food memories traveling to the frontal lobe of the brain—oh wow, I am remembering ROs, my Saturday BBQ hang-out in Gastonia, North Carolina where I would meet the Wetzell gals—Hey Mare! Order me a Jumbo Cheeseburger with BBQ slaw and a Cherry-Lemon-Sundrop this Saturday! And oh, the BBQ in Birmingham, Alabama, oh, yeah, at “Dreamland” where after you eat your neighbor’s weight in ribs, you gobble down the best banana cream pie around…)

Oh yeah, back to the pestering problem of that boy’s answer to the question, “Where are you from?”

He had just told me those cities in the United States. What does he mean he is from Palestine? How can you be from a place that is really just a state of mind??

By the end of those first days of orientation, as I stitched together my metaphorical quilt of information about these students, many, many of them had claimed, “Palestine” when asked where they were from.

So I went to my Saudi Arabian (but really from Jordan) colleague Fatina, the one I go to about all things involving technology, Middle Eastern life, and transportation to burgers and shakes (no, sorry, we’ve had enough food imagery for this blog entry) and said, “what gives?” How is that an answer to this basic question?

Whenever I ask her something Fatina usually gives this great sigh. The sigh reminds me of sighs I have elicited from others over the years, often tour guides in foreign countries. It is the sigh of, “well, you are getting around to figuring it out.” (I remember that sigh from our great tour guide Smaro, in Greece, when I had a Helen-Keller moment about the Truman Doctrine, and US-Greek relations, and she said, “You are smart John, just a little slow!”) “So, what gives with this answer Fatina?”

Fatina delicately discussed the issue of Palestinian nationalism, Palestinian identity, and also hinted that few to none of these students had probably even physically been in the region that historically is Palestine.

It was time to start to unpack the emotional-historical-national-spiritual-poetic-visceral baggage that is Palestine.

You may wonder why I am relaying this account nearly four weeks after I overheard this question and spoke to Fatina. Most of the blog entries have been written practically as the events unfold.

This one is different. This one is thornier and pricklier. And to be honest, I felt inadequate. I knew I wanted to write about this since that first day, but I would think about it, and decide, “no I’ll wait a few more days until I know more about the situation, the history, you know.” Finally, as the anniversary of 9/11 passed last week, I knew I should write about what I know as of right now. I remember that exquisite friend Judy, the one who encouraged me to start the blog, told me in her best teacher-mom voice, “Write your impressions as you live them. Revel in the naivete, track those observations John!”

I remember standing in Barnes&Noble in New York, staring at the entire row of books trying to explain the situation about Palestine. I wondered if I would ever have enough understanding to make sense of the issue. I remember a few months ago the scathing criticisms leveled at former President Jimmy Carter for his observations and visions about Palestine, and how it fits into the Arab-Israeli tension we have all grown up with.

So, it’s time to make a little sense of what Palestine means. I am sure I will come back to it often in my musings, eager to see how I revise and re-frame the issues and the emotions.

One important physical reminder of Palestine on our campus is right at the entrance to the school. There is a grove of olive trees planted in the last year, with a beautiful, gold plate on a dozen of the trees, honoring the founding members of the school’s Board of Trustees. But these are not just any old olive trees. These are olive trees His Majesty King Abdullah had transported from a famed olive grove in Palestine, about 30 miles away, a grove that historically stretches back to the Roman days of occupation. And of course the olive tree is symbolically seen as the tree, the fruit, of reconciliation and peace.

As I learned from Fatina on that first day of meeting the students, “there is no issue probably more dear to this region than the liberation of Palestine.” Many, many people who live in Jordan, especially Amman, are Palestinian refugees. She went on to say that even though they may never have set foot in Palestine, “the most treasured dream of Palestinians is returning to the Arab villages destroyed in Israel’s 1948 war of independence.”

Her explanation struck a chord with me—I had known one Palestinian in New York, a wonderful science teacher who had told me some stories about her family and what many of her people had faced. She relayed to me a simple, sweet story of her parents, and how for years and years after their expulsion from their home in Palestine, they still carried the family’s house keys on a chain around their necks, awaiting the day they could return to their home.

Home. There may not be a sweeter word! I remember once I led a book club through John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, and I focused on the importance of “place” and “home” in the book, and how those words can so easily create an ache in our soul.

As I thought about Palestine and Israel and their competing land claims, I decided to go back to the Bible and see what I might find about that sensitive region. I came upon this passage in the Old Testament: “If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it to us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.” (Numbers 14:8) I still quiver with excitement to think that I live so near that very land that God gave to Abraham and his descendents. It is just a 20-minute drive to Mount Nebo, the spot from which Moses gazed at that land.

Who now has “dibs” on that land? Why is it so important? I remember a 9th grade student naively asking in class a long time ago, “Why all the fighting? Isn’t it just a piece of land?”

Jerusalem is of course the most complicated in a host of complications—there are sites there holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. In what must be a small piece of real estate crowded together are the revered Wailing Wall, which is the western retaining wall, the Jewish Temple Mount, the last vestige of the Temple of Solomon; there is the Dome of the Rock, the mosque celebrating Muhammad’s flight to Heaven; and nearby is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site determined by Roman Queen Helena to have been the place of the crucifixion, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus. Imagine how burdened and enriched that piece of real estate is. It is an intersection of sacred sites, of absolutes, of righteousness.

Yet in all that physical proximity, there is so much psychological distance.

I am neither a Jew nor an Arab, but being in this area of the world, having lived in New York and hearing the cries for peace, and hearing the stories of Palestinians now, I cannot help but care. There is empathy and revulsion from hearing the stories of wrenching violence, of dashed hopes, of broken promises, and disbelief at the level of zealous intolerance.

Can both sides be right? Not surprisingly, both do have legitimate claims. One historical moment that has certainly exacerbated this tension came in 1917, as Britain faced dark days during the “Great War” (of course it wasn’t given the moniker, “World War I” until the sequel came ‘round 20 years later). In order to shore up support, Britain offered this important piece of real estate, Palestine, to Arabs in return for their support in the war effort, and to Zionists, in return for their support in the war effort. What a mess when Britain is on the winning side and both the Arabs and Zionists come to claim their lottery ticket!

After the devastation of the Holocaust in World War II, the United Nations paved the way for the creation of Israel, but of course, at the expense of the Arabs who lived in Palestine. And, as we know, hopes of peace doused in blood have been the order of the day for the last 60 years. Both sides claim victims. Each has suffered at the hands of outsiders, and each has been wounded by the other.

One of the best things of this Jordan experience is the opportunity to get inside the emotions of the Arabs who face that tiny Jewish state on the rim of the vast Arab world. This area has such yearning for peace. I see it in the newspapers every day. I hear it in the stories of people sharing family lore.

And yet, there is much suspicion and hurt. I found another Old Testament passage that may best sum up what I find about these two opposing sides. The passage found in Proverbs 18:14 reads, “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit, who can bear?”

Such “wounded spirits” I see—will this be a season when hope and history rhyme?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Ramadan Kareem!

Today is the second day of the month of Ramadan, and I wanted to tell you what I have learned in the last few days about this important month in the Islamic calendar.

First of all, what I knew before this week about Ramadan could probably fit in a thimble. I knew that Ramadan involved fasting for Muslims, and I thought it was later in autumn. Why is it in September then? As this holy time quickly approached I busied myself, as a good historian should, gathering information about what the month signified, and how people celebrated this month.

I probably learned the most about Ramadan in my interviews from our librarian, Miss Afaf. Miss Afaf is one of those lifetime librarians who loves books and children and tells a story in that magical way that only a librarian who has enchanted children for years can do.

Oh, by the way, my sister, that spectacular sibling named Elizabeth, suggested I explain why the custom in the schools here leans toward calling teachers in the manner of “Miss Afaf,” or “Mr. John,” or “Miss Elizabeth,” etc. Whoever decided this appellation was the proper address felt that it was a combination of respect and intimacy. Hmm…very nice actually, and I have found it a very sweet way to be addressed instead of the more conventional “Mr. Leistler.” Oh, one more digression before I am back on-task: at the end of my first year teaching ever, back at Gaston Day School, my father came to visit me. Well, not really just a visit, but to a supervise a “move,” one of his specialities. On maybe his second day visiting, a student walked by my classroom, waved at me, and offered a quintessential North Carolina “Hey, Mr. Leistler.” My dad said hello back. I looked at him, and said, “That was meant for me. I’m Mr. Leistler now!”

So, on my way into the library yesterday morning, Jaber, a boy from Kuwait, greeted me at 7:30 a.m. with a cheery “Ramadan Kareem, Mr. John!” Understanding what that meant was my first order of business! Miss Afaf explained that that greeting is very much like “Merry Christmas,” except that in this Ramadan wish, it raises some of the most important concepts of Ramadan. “Kareem,” she explained, means generosity, and in this popular greeting you wish upon a person the virtue of generosity.

By the end of the first day of Ramadan I had stitched together an interesting view of this holiday. But let’s go back two days to see how we got to this place.

In the school meeting on Tuesday, one of the deans announced she thought that Ramadan might begin on Thursday. Thought it would? It might or might not? Why didn’t she know? I elbowed a colleague, and asked what that was all about. She whispered that Ramadan had to be “noticed,” and that an Islamic judge had to notice the crescent moon in a certain way, on a certain night in a certain lunar month and you couldn’t pinpoint exactly the beginning of the holiday. Another colleague cracked, “Other people know when their holidays begin.” So the confusion as to whether it began on Tuesday, Wednesday, or some other day was unusual. (I also learned that the holiday migrates—the Islamic calendar is shorter than our calendar, so each year the holiday begins 10 days earlier. Oh, that’s why it’s not in November anymore, or well, not for a few years.)

But knowing when it begins matters. It matters a great deal. Not only is their fasting involved from sun-up to sun-down for Muslims, but every schedule in life is affected! Everybody’s work schedule changes, school schedules change, hours that the Mall is open change, and on and on. The work day and the school day are shortened for a month! So when exactly that crescent moon is sighted matters deeply as everyone moves into Ramadan mode.

I am not sure who this venerable judge is, but he did see the crescent moon as promised, so Ramadan kicked into high-gear yesterday. What that also means is that the night before things change. The dining hall staff brought over containers of food at night, for it is traditional to wake up about 3:00 a.m. and eat a meal called suhur in preparation for the fast at dawn. Those of us in the boarders’ halls wondered if anyone had considered how this all might play out in a teen-age boy’s dormitory!

There are several things that are traditional in this suhur as you prepare for the fast.
It is customary to have yogurt and cucumbers. The cucumbers are, what, 80% water, and are thought to help sustain you through the day. Fasting Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink anything, indeed they are cautioned not to swallow their spit, from sun-up to sun-down. So as they gorge on their cucumbers, yogurt, olive oil, cheese and bread in the middle of the night, most people eat fresh yellow dates as well. These dates are thought to provide the balance necessary to make it through the whole day of fasting.

I asked the Islamic theology teacher what I should tell my friends and family about the observance of Ramadan. Miss Zuhaira said simply, “Ramadan is like a “guest” in your home with responsibilities and needs. You should be attentive to Ramadan as you would a guest.”

As I have cobbled together my understanding in the last few days, this month is a combination of many virtues and hopes and tests. It was in this particular month in the lunar calendar when the prophet Mohammed (and I have learned that when you use his name, it is customary in English to always write “PBUH” after his name—Peace Be Upon Him) received the revelations that we call the Koran.

But this month is more than a celebration for our Muslim brethren of the receipt of these words. It is also meant to be a cultivation of empathy—when you fast every day (yes, every day for 30 days, not just one day or something, but every day for 30 days from sun-up to sun-down) you are to identify with the poor around you, and it is this moral element, even moral imperative, that distinguishes Ramadan. Obviously, the fast would remind the observers of the preciousness of food and blessings. Moreover, this fast should refine the spirits of the observers, preparing them for adversity.

It was interesting asking the boys in the dorm what their families did for Ramadan. All of them talked about the excitement of iftar. Iftar is the meal at sundown when you can break your fast after the hours of self-deprivation. You have 30 days of fasting, You have 30 evenings of Iftar! Sometimes the iftar would go on for half the night, the Saudi boys told me. It sounds very much like a Thanksgiving meal, especially with the festive anticipation, the gorging of food, the friends and family celebrating their bounty. Thirty days! Many of the boys told stories of how at iftar several nights they would take food in the family cars, and set up a stand on the highway and offer free food for anyone. One boy explicitly said, “You never serve anything that you aren’t eating with your own family. You take the same meal to the poor as you do to your own family.”

One boy seemed to guess that I likened this evening repast to our American Thanksgiving, and he said, “Mr. John, yes we eat a lot in the evenings, but Ramadan is not just about no food and then food. I think it is much more about making an intention to God, about our obligation to God.” That boy is one of those insightful students I learn from every day.

Another boy told me that during the hours of fasting, it is also urged that you give up anger, envy, gossiping and sexual intercourse. Okay one joke—maybe that’s why everyone’s schedule is shortened, so that you can go home, and stay away from each other so you might actually live up to those goals! No disrespect intended there. But when our KA schedule was announced that the school day would end at 3:30 many of the women faculty complained that that didn’t give them time to prepare the evening feasts, so the day ends now, with no sports, at 2:30. There is rest time, and meditation time, and for me, a lovely increase in time to e-mail friends and family.

I asked Khalil, my Arabic teacher about the origins of the word Ramadan. He sighed, for he said, “well, there are as many thoughts about that as…” and trailed off…grains of sand in the desert? He liked the thought that the word derives from a word that means the “dance in the desert” but he also allowed that it might have come from an Arabic word for intense heat, or scorched ground, and shortness of rations. He liked the more poetic “dance in the desert” definition, and that also carried a strong Bedouin connection too. Bedouins were the first in the Arab world to embrace Islam (the wealthier, Christian, Arab merchants had much disdain for this new faith way back in the 7th and 8th centuries) and so many of the nostalgic traditions of Ramadan call on the Bedouin past.

There are decorations for Ramadan as well! Many of the decorations call on that Bedouin past. On tables for iftar there are these lanterns, beautiful objects called a fannous, much like the Aladdin-ish lamps we all imagine in the 1001 Arabian Nights’ story—it is the lamp used by the Bedouins to wake people up around 3:00 a.m. to eat the suhur before the fast begins at sun-up. These decorations reminded me of how Americans might decorate a house to look a little like the first Thanksgiving, or at Christmas create a look of a Victorian advent season.

There does not seem to be a tradition of gift-giving. Sigh. Well. I take that back. One of the Arabic teachers told me that “Properly observing the fast is supposed to induce a comfortable feeling of peace and calm.” That does sound like a mighty nice gift.

Last night, as the weekend began, and the first iftar of the season set in, I joined a group of colleagues to have Chinese food in Amman. And I saw lights on so many houses! There are Ramadan lights! Almost every house had these lights—a brightly lit crescent moon and star, signifying the month of meditation, fast, and gleeful celebration with loved ones.

So many stories, so many customs, so many nights of celebrating to go!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Farmer in the Dell

We are doing spade work in the classroom.

Now when my father gets this blog (our dear friend Sylvia is kind enough to print out copies of the blog entries so my computer-deprived father can read the comings and goings of his intrepid son) he will laugh and say, “He doesn’t know what spade work is! He’s only done yard work about a dozen times in his life!” A funny aside: when I bought my house in Charlotte in 1992 my father came to supervise the move, and when we arrived at the house, a dozen helpful and wonderful students loading and unloading boxes, my father urged the group to take a good look at the yard saying, “it’ll never look this good again!”

But we are doing academic spade work here. The goals for this past week included prompt arrival to class with the right materials, the practicing of note-taking, and, gulp…the big one…thinking like a historian. Like any good journeyman farmer, it was (metaphorically of course) backbreaking, strenuous, and rewarding in many ways. We are plowing over (under? whatever!) new ground in many ways.

One of two quotations of the week came early last week when I was sitting with a couple science teachers lamenting how hard it was for these students to question a historical source, and do anything other than memorization (which, I am not sure is a great skill of theirs either, but I haven’t required any so I will not stand in judgment on that count). A Jordanian colleague spoke frankly, “John, don’t forget, we just see history as useless.”

Oh, okay. I’ll try and remember!

Get out the scholarly garden tools everyone!!

Last week many students’ schedules needed to be re-worked given the changes in arts classes, ethics classes, etc. and so one day I found myself with a new class of 20 students. Now that shouldn’t be a problem, and my dear public school teacher friends, please do not roll your eyes at the number, but, the room only has 16 chairs, and the hearkness table atmosphere barely accommodates that number of sweet 16 anyway. I had a class of 18 boys and 2 girls, and I affirm on all that is holy in pop culture, this was a class of behavior issues I had never imagined! We worked to get a pen in hand, and a notebook open for every hormonally-enthused teenager in the room. It took 30 minutes. I decided there must be a better way.

I searched my Columbia University Teachers College-trained mind and soul for help with these behaviorally challenged youngsters.

But, in the end, I eschewed the ways of all the greats: John Dewey, Maxine Greene, Nel Noddings, Lynda Darling-Hammond. I turned my back on all that is pedagogically logical, and I begged my friend Fatina: “take me to a candy store. I must have candy.”

Fatina obliged and we sped to Madaba, and I got bags of M&Ms. I figured B.F. Skinner and the rats might have the answer to the notebook-open-pen-in-hand rap I had begun to chant in class. I would give them candy for being like good 3rd graders. (Is a Protestant allowed to utter a good ole Oy Vey?)

The following day as the students sauntered in, I had written on the board, “Please take your seats, and be prepared for class.” When the bell rang, I counted to 10 out loud. Who was ready? Who? Who had read the board? Why is that excited American counting? Four students got a handful of M&Ms.The rest? Oh, yes, they whined. They would have to wait for the candy!

By the end of the day, word had gotten round a bit, and in the last class, 9 of 15 students complied and got a handful of the candy the Mars brothers invented so World War II gunner-soldiers could enjoy a chocolate-y treat and not have sticky fingers for their weapons (ah, you didn’t know you would get some food history today, did you??).

The next day: in the class of 20, all but 2 were seated and ready seconds before the bell rang (seconds before people!). I saw smiles. I got out the candy. It was a day of jubilation, organization, acquiescence and strong insights.

Later that day I saw Meera, the outstanding university professor, and she looked a little down. She mentioned how she just can’t get some of the boys to bring their book to class, and be a prepared student. I felt wise at this moment—you see, I had the answer. I said to her, “Meera, do not be proud. Buy the candy. It changed my life.”

Quick—buy some stock in American candy companies! I have a feeling…

I explained to the students the next day about B.F. Skinner and his concept of random reinforcement and said, “you never know when the charitable hand of candy will reward you. Be prepared.” We shall see.

Last week I picked a cultural artifact to discuss each day. In the US I would teach more than one artifact a class period, but I just wanted to cover one thing well every day, and see how they did at sustaining a conversation about one historical topic or concept. I chose things I knew would grab them, and it worked. One day we discussed a photograph, one day a painting, one day an 18th century engraving, one day a movie clip. Each day we tried to figure what we saw in the work, and what questions we needed to ask so that the article made better sense. Each day was more spade work trying to illuminate what good historical thinking was.

I also introduced a straightforward paper topic due in two weeks. As I explained the process, the need for research, for crafting an argument and not relying on an “announcement” one boy, a boy particularly moved by the candy technique, raised his hand, and asked, “May we plagiarize?”

There is spade work to be done.

By the end of the week there were some changes again with scheduling, and after I put my authoritative foot down, the class of 20 had been pared down to 11, and the girl, affectionately known in my blog as SS, was transferred to another class. Frankly, I am a little sad that she and I would not have the wondrous gift of a year together, but c’est la vie. I don’t know the Arabic for that phrase yet, sorry.

I have enjoyed study hall in the evening. For the first two weeks of school it was in the library, and I would go over at night just for fun and walk around and check on the students. I love that one-on-one time to check on their work, possibly allay their fears, and talk more of the expectations we have for them. After those two hours in the library, they would boisterously return to the dorms, and often burst out in song and dance—one night a conga line of 20 boarders on the second floor, and one night a group doing a Japanese tribal dance they had learned in the dance class.

In last week’s classes on the cultural artifacts there were some insightful and elegant comments. One bright girl named Reed explained the irony in the French engraving from 1738. Her comments definitely pushed us to a new understanding of this penny-print; a boy named Mohammed explained to his class how the figure in this one 1932 British painting had a shameful look, and then he said, “he seems almost regretful about the state of humanity.” Like the crocuses around Easter time, flowers emerge from the fertile soil. Wow.

Of course, there is spade work to be done for me as well! Last week I was with my colleague Fatina (she of the “I need M&Ms,” and the “I want a hamburger soon” car service) in the library when a student summoned me for help. “Come help me, Mr. John” asked Rashed. I bid him to come to me, but he said he needed me at his laptop. As I got up to join him at his study carrel I said, “Oh sure, if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, the mountain will go to…” and I stopped. Eyes wide, I said, “Oh. Oh, I’ll bet that’s sacreligious here!” Dear Fatina, good friend, said with a smile, “I will forgive you, but yes, best not to use that phrase in this part of the world.” As curious historians, we then wondered how that phrase ever came to be, but I realized one should try and stay one sentence ahead in one’s brain if possible.

Most farmers have to wait months to see the fruits of their spade work. Mohammed, the same as the insightful one above, rewarded me much more swiftly.

Last week Mohammed earned 2 Fs on homework assignments. We talked, etc. and then I showed the students how I wanted them to do a Journal Sheet of their thoughts covering the week’s work. Mohammed did his that night, three nights early (he did miss the idea that it should cover the whole week, but never get toooooooo picky about work early!) and came to show me. “How is it, Mr. John?” “Mohammed, this work is brilliant! You chose great examples, and you explained them! That’s it!,” I enthused. He asked me, “What mark do you think I will get?” I looked him in his wide eyes—“I think it is an A.” His eyes just sparkled, and he smiled and said, “Inshallah.”

Should I end the entry with the sobering disclosure that I gave as many As as I gave Fs?

Well, I have the spade in hand, and “hi-ho” it is off to do some more work.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Arabic Class

In the last two weeks I have had a little over six hours of Arabic instruction. Let me tell you about learning this new language…

I should start with our teacher, a crisply, well-dressed proper man named Khalil. He has been employed to help the Americans here learn Arabic. If you have ever seen what Arabic writing looks like, you know this will not be an easy task! I think I wrote in an entry a couple weeks ago that the first time the beginners class met, the resident KA Arabic teachers joined us to talk about how one goes about learning this language. I had looked forward to the first instruction, figuring I would come home singing the Arabic ABCs. Instead, the meeting was highjacked by a debate as to how one ought to go about learning Arabic.

Some Arabic teachers advocated that we should focus on the writing of classical Arabic, and other teachers who had taken some Arabic before clamored for simply good conversational hints. Poor Khalil tried to moderate the spirited debate, while all of the true novices sat and stared. And worried. At the end of the hour of discussion I went home with no more Arabic knowledge than when I went in.

But then last week the real learning began. I don’t know who picked the time for our intensive class, but I think they forgot to consider how a teacher feels at the end of a week. Remember, our work week is Sunday through Thursday (which has led me to adopt the new phrase: TGITh—not really as exciting sounding as the old stand-by, TGIF, but psychologically it works!) and so we have Arabic on Thursday afternoon from 4-6:30. Yes, that’s right! Even though our eyeballs feel like lead leadballs, there is a hardy group of 8 of us that meet for this long session. We meet in a classroom, and I wish there was a hidden video to capture some of the hilarity of watching us attempt this language.

It is hilarious, not because we teachers suddenly turn into our worst-nightmare-as-students—no, no, we are a group trying to master the sounds and the writing of this dense, difficult language. I wish a camera could capture the attempts we make at copying the letters, trying to memorize and decode the diacritical marks of the letters, and of course, record our noble efforts at emulating the sounds Khalil is making.

So after that odd, hour-long debate a couple weeks ago, where should Khalil begin at opening up this mysterious language to us? Khalil is a master of compromise. He says he will satisfy both sides of the debate—we will learn some of the classical Arabic writing, as well as learn phrases to say at the market, in a taxi, and in an elegant conversation.

Think about how interesting it is to start teaching a language—what are the first words you would teach? Would you do the alphabet first? Or some polite phrases? Khalil opens with an interesting choice: he teaches us the word for ‘mulberry.’ Hmmmm…a colleague turns to me and sardonically says, “oh, sure that’s the first word I would teach! Isn’t that the word you were dying to say to someone one the street??!” But Khalil has a good reason—the word ‘mulberry’ sounds like our word ‘toot.’ Hey! That’s an easy sound—I can make that sound—listen, everybody! Toot! Hey, I’m talkin’ Arabic! Now that may not be a word Condoleeza Rice has learned in her high-level diplomatic talks with Arab leaders, but it does give you some confidence in speaking this language. Okay. Toot. The next word Khalil teaches us is ‘dandy’—as in the kind of effete fop dandy that we all think of with Oscar Wilde. Hmmmm…another interesting choice, and another chilly comment from my sarcastic colleague. Why this odd word choice? Because it is a sound that is hard to make! I can transliterate the word ‘dandy’ into English and write “ghandour.” But pronouncing it correctly is hard.

Imagine you are gargling in your throat. Gargle away, and that sound is the “gh” sound of ghandour. It reminded me of a student of mine, named Ghaida, and she has been helping me pronounce her name correctly. It looks pretty easy, but it requires this harsh gargling sound. When I couldn’t say it to her satisfaction, she said, “Oh, Mr. John, just call me Ida. That’s easier for you.” I said no, “you deserve to have your name pronounced correctly. Just help me.” Ghaida said, “Okay, Mr. John, pretend you are strangling me and you are saying my name with force.” Oh my. In all my 20 years in education, I had never had such an unusual suggestion for saying someone’s name. I pretend. I exaggerate the gh- sound. I am improving. I am getting more guttural and harsh, and she smiles at my improvement.

So Khalil began with a simple sound and a difficult sound. He is such a patient man, this sartorially splendid man saying such simple things with these bird-like imitations coming from these adults. The sounds improved. One woman said that she had been in a store asking for hummus, as you know, a staple here, and no one understood her. She demonstrated how she had said the word. Khalil said, “well, you didn’t aspirate the ‘h’ long enough. We pronounce it as hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhummus.” Okay. The subtleties of language! Later on he showed us how close words were by comparing the word for swimming, and the word for farewell. To us it sounded exactly the same. He said to watch his tongue on his palate as he demonstrated the slight change from the syllable ‘tis-‘ to the syllable ‘tiiss.’

After our sound-making venture we moved on to writing. As you know, Arabic does not use our alphabet. I miss it! Since I was in 7th grade I have taken six years of French, three years of German, Latin and Spanish, and learned a smattering of some other languages. Arabic does not use our alphabet (I know I just said that, I am repeating it for emphasis, and maybe a little sympathy!). There are squiggles, lines, and things that go above and below lines, and of course there must be a system to it. You just have to crack the code. Khalil just starts in and has us write some sounds. He writes the sounds, we say the sounds, we write the sounds. He comes around and checks our work (how smart he is to have a red pen to write big, red, check marks over your work, offering lovely compliments (“ahhh…mumtaz John”) along the way. I turn to Meera across the table, and say, “I only missed one. How did you do?” To which my esteemed colleague, a highly regarded scholar at Brown University said, “You really are competitive, aren’t you?” Well, I guess my squiggles beat her squiggles.

Khalil turns to us after we wrote our first 8 sounds: “You have just written Arabic!” I reminded him that we had copied Arabic—not quite the same thing. Good thing to deflate the class’s sense of empowerment Johnny!

So we meet from 4-6:30 on Thursdays, and then for about 70 minutes on Monday.

As we left the first class, and this was at the end of 12 solid days without a single break in supervising students, I turned to my bleary-eyed Arabic learners and said, “It will never be so new again!” That was an exciting feeling.

Yes, Arabic is hard, but in my six or so hours of instruction, there are several things I have come to admire:

(1) Allah, or God, makes His way into many comments. Many of the greetings one makes to another involve God’s blessings in your life (remember the word “inshallah” we all like so much.)
(2) The Arab world loves their sweets so much, that when you talk of beauty, it also involves the sweetness like in honey, or the Land of Milk and Honey as we know from the Bible—an interesting connection between beauty and sweetness of taste
(3) When you make greetings, there are appropriate responses, and it reminded me of music, especially call-and-response chants in various churches. When you say “good morning” the answer literally is “may the morning be bright for you, too.” Isn’t that nice?
(4) Yes, the sounds are hard. You just have to practice.
(5) Many greetings also involve the word, “peace”
(6) There is great drama and flair in the sonority of the language. Maybe Khalil is just being dramatic, but it certainly goes in your head easier that way with the drama. I do well in that part, by the way.

I guess the hardest part is that Khalil does not want to write the colloquial Arabic on the board for us in transliterated English. It makes sense, since he would just be making it easier for us, and that is not really Arabic. So he will say a phrase, and you say it, and then try and write down what that sound is like in English. That makes for some interesting marks on the page. For example, you might ask, “What do you do for a living?” and in transliterated English, I wrote it as: “Shooob dish trrrrreyel?” I did try that question on a student of mine the other day, and he turned and asked, “why did you ask me what I do for a living??”

Triumph! One guttural sound at a time! One squiggle and dot and hash mark at a time!

As dawn comes over the United States, I offer a hearty “Sabahhhh El Khhhair!” to all of you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Tip of the Hat to the Hilltop…

This is the first time in 11 years that I am not on the hilltop at Hackley School in Tarrytown as school begins. I thought about it all day today as I went about responding to the needs and dreams of my new institution, remembering other “first days” in a place where I spent over a quarter of my entire life. I wanted to give a shout-out to anyone from that circle of friends.

I remember in the fall of 1996 that first first day at Hackley. It was hot as blazes. Hotter than Jordan, which I now can say with a great deal of authority! No one helped you figure out what to do in homeroom, nor where attendance was to be dropped off, and I remember trying to find a workable copier the hour before my first class. The copier was hidden in a utility room (natch!), and I soaked my shirt through with perspiration trying to copy the syllabi in that hot room before my first class.

At the end of that first week, my new colleague Phil Gratwick asked me how I liked Hackley so far, especially compared with my previous Charlotte Latin School. “Honestly, Phil, it is like playing with paper dolls—I don’t really know anyone yet, and it all feels like going through the motions of a child’s game. But I will give it time,” I said.

Eleven years ago! And over the course of time I would seize opportunities in Tarrytown that transformed me, both personally and professionally. So much of teaching always feels imperfect, on-the-fly, and mysterious anyway, but on that hilltop, I had the chance to hone my teaching skills, and while it was hard, grinding, difficult work, memory after memory is one of bridge-building. I remember those years as beginning on one shore, with the knowledge and experience and interests of the student, and constantly moving toward broader horizons and deeper ways of understanding the realities of children’s lives.

I don’t think I could have made the leap to Jordan without the Hackley experience.
In 1996-97 I taught Modern European History to students of such diverse backgrounds, and often they would ask why we studied European history, and certainly what does all this Christianity in art, etc. have to do with their world-view. Wow. I had to think about that! When I taught in North Carolina, nearly everyone had internalized the story of Christianity since birth, and every WASP knew exactly why we immersed ourselves in the glories of European history. Explaining to those students why it mattered prepared me to take myself out of a course (and now out of a country) and clarify and reify why a course mattered, and how to think about it as more than just “our collective heritage.”

Over the years I created a dozen courses, stretching those proverbial wings in ways I hardly imagined in 1996. I lead a department of determined history educators. Each step became more adventurous, bolder, and I believe more self-activating for the dozens of students I met.

And those students…there were students in that very first class in September, 1996 that I saw at a wedding of one of those Junior students in my last month at Hackley in 2007. What interests they had, and how they touched my life in that 11-year journey of discovery and surprise.

But in the fall of 1996 I remember talking to friends, friends not on that new-to-me hilltop, and describing the Hackley teacher-student dynamic akin to an old John Ford cowboys-and-Indians western. But in time, that wariness gave way to such trust and value, indeed up to my final class, a community of care and compassion.

I could rattle off the names of students from every year in my 11 years that reinforced why this career decision 20 years ago has been nothing short of magnificent and gratifying.

My partners in that complex journey at Hackley were those colleagues whose dignity and intelligence challenged and inspired me year after year. Those explorer-friends were not the “don’t-smile-until-Christmas” automaton teachers we see in entertainment depictions—these were courageous and imaginative colleagues. Many of us ate together, traveled together, enjoyed a Will and Grace TV-watching club together, cried together, read together, mourned together, celebrated together, and marveled together at our good fortune at alighting on that hilltop in the same era. With these colleagues I celebrated weddings (the hottest one definitely my dear friend Diana’s on a July day that exceeded “Africa hot” I think), celebrated births (most notably my niece and nephew’s!) and marked the passings of parents. Some of these colleagues certainly became the coveted kind of friends-of-the-heart.

The other day, when I got out my Howard Zinn memoir, a bookmark fell to the floor, and a dandy laugh filled me with such warmth. The bookmark is a series of 3 photographs, like the kind you get in an arcade when you and your friends pile into a photo booth to make funny faces. There had been such a photo booth at the bat mitzvah of a 7th grade student in 2005, and my jewel-of-friends Anne Siviglia and Joan Fox and I squeezed into the photo booth to make funny faces for the camera. Remember—this triumvirate of teachers were such venerable educators! Over our laughing and smiling snapshots reads the words, “Best Friends.” How lucky can you get?

These are memories I will wrap myself in when the world is cold.

Jane Addams, founder of Hull House in Chicago a century ago, once asked, “How shall we respond to the dreams of youth?” It is a dazzling and elegant question. It is a question to take with us as we plunge again into a teaching year—full of dread and hope, alive to both, living a teacher’s life.

Here’s to you on that faraway hilltop, from a loving friend in Jordan.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away…

Quote of the week:

“Mr. John, I didn’t do my homework, because, remember, I told you I don’t like history.”

True story.

We are in the second week of classes, following a relaxing weekend with the full-time boarders, including trips to a snazzy bowling alley in a hotel in downtown Amman (what a great peppery, hamburger they made!) and of course face-time at the haven of Saturday teen-age life, the Mall.

But of course life really revolves around the academic classes, those little 45-minute bundles of promise, rambunctious behavior and teen-age tang. The other day I announced at lunch with some colleagues: “I have figured the cosmic scheme! It is so simple: The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away.” The 8 of us laughed, and then we all started running the script in our head of what had transpired in classes in the last few days—the pattern revealed itself as that remarkably simple. You would have a good class. “Huzzah! Hooray! Teaching is a breeze!” Ahhh…that would be followed by a bad class. “Argh! Drat! I have reached the nadir of my career!”

Now I am a Libra, and we are known for our sense of balance.

Stop laughing Chuck—that is what all the astrologists say about Libras!

Frankly, I can’t remember a time when there was such an odd balance of this psychic “give and take.” You want examples?? I had a class the other day in which we talked about the concept of point of view, and we analyzed our individual families and how our own historical baggage shapes our world view. The students were excited about connecting bits of information in their family past to their interests and priorities in the world of 2007. Then this very enthusiastic student came forward, the student whom on the first day professed his love of history, said, “I read a history of Kuwait that my grandfather wrote, and it is easy to tell his point of view.” As I waited for some interesting tidbit, the young man, sheepishly said, “of course my grandfather was the King of Kuwait.” Indeed! It didn’t seem to impress the other students all that much, and then Sarah, one of the students who enjoyed Howard Zinn so much, got us back on track. “So what in Howard Zinn’s past do you think helps us understand the choices he made?” A little later, Sarah said, “I can’t believe you aren’t giving us the rest of the book! Where can I get this book?” See? There was intellectual electricity in that class!

That class was followed by a class when no one seemed to have a pen or pencil, and they didn’t quite understand that we would do work both in class and at home. Seriously, my goal was to have every student have a notebook open, a pen in hand, and seated. “Please stay seated….Don’t hit him….I asked you to bring the packet to class….” Who was this man saying this on an endless loop? Is this some Wonder Years-esque bored teacher?? Was that really me—just trying to control the class???

The class after that brilliantly pondered a single sentence in our reading in which we discussed the poetry of the words “euphoria,” and “evaporate.” They remembered details from class the day before, and even connected two events. The Lord Giveth Again!!

Twice a week there is an All-School Read, a time when students sit with their advisors and read something for pleasure…ponder that concept dear reader—how often, I ask you, has a school created a time for such serendipitous pursuits! I took my 5 advisees and we high-tailed it to the library to this one nook, that has become my favorite space on the entire campus. Oh, how nice, you might say. He loves books. He has surrounded himself with books. Yeah, right. This space is also the one place on campus where I can control the temperature in one of the few air-conditioned places. This nook is mine! When I am there with that remote thermostat in hand, you can practically hang meat in that reading area!

So my advisees and I get to this arctic-paradise-with-couches, and we discuss that we have the opportunity to read anything we want. Several grumble that they want to sleep, and I marshal my authority, and say we will read! One boy all of a sudden needs the nurse (so glad to know that that tactic of getting out of obligations has traveled across the oceans!) so departs. One boy goes and finds a book on South Africa and pages through it contentedly. Two young scholars decide that the magazine Car and Driver is all they can manage. But the last young man pulls out a well-worn copy of—drum roll please! Anna Karenina. I can’t help but notice that he opens this Russian classic to about half-way through the tome. “Razi, I gotta say, that is an impressive choice of a book for free time,” I observe rather casually. “Yeah, well, my dad said it’s a really good book, and he and I read Crime and Punishment together over the summer, so I thought I would try it.” Just to make sure he is not just full of bravado (have you ever been given the advice that to look smart, get a copy of James Joyce’ Ulysses, and walk around with a bookmark about halfway through!) I ask him some questions, and we have a great talk about the Crime and Punishment novel, and about how Raskolnikov’s struggles still resonate in today’s world. I remember reading Crime and Punishment for Mr. Justice’s English class in high school, and really enjoying it. However, I think I loved all the books in Mr. Justice’s class. (Wait—I take that back. The James Joyce one, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—nah, I didn’t get it then, and I was always afraid to try that Joyce-chick-magnet-advice for college.) It was really a thrill talking to Razi about these books. Ahhh…these great kids! The scale tips yet again.

And then in class…we are making timelines of our lives. “What are 13 events that have shaped your life?” Strangely enough, some are not very interested in the exercise. One boy has done no brainstorming, and I say, “why don’t you draw the line itself, and mark off the years and then you can fill it in with exciting events.” He looks a little world-weary, which is odd for this very young boy, and says, “nothing has happened to me.” I remind him that he was, in fact, born, and his parents probably found that very exciting. And just the other day we met the King! After 20 minutes, all he had on his timeline was the phrase, “I was born.”

And He taketh away!!

You get the point…and at least I am recognizing the swing of the pendulum. The laughter at the dining table showed that my colleagues also understood the veracity of the phrase. I now have teachers checking in with each other: “was that class a giveth or a taketh??!”

It’s just, to be honest, I have been used to a beautiful symmetry in classes at Hackley, and a harmonious consistency to my classes. Somehow as I look back on those lessons, my classes have taken on a food analogy (big surprise!) of the wonderful Cincinnati Graeter’s Ice Cream: wonderfully rich ice cream and high in yummy butter-fat studded with irregularly shaped bittersweet chocolate chunks but predictable in the abundance of those heavenly chips…

Oh. Sorry. I guess the imagery of the ice cream got me carried away.

But in this giveth and taketh process it has forced me to think about what we are doing in these early days at KA—lots of behavior modification, and vigorously trying to spark curiosity. It has piqued my interest why these delightful teen-agers (and seriously, 90% of them are just a delight!) do not yet demonstrate the level of curiosity that I imagined. Maybe it is because they have never been asked their opinions, their observations, their reactions to things around them. I find it interesting that it is hard to get them to notice things—it was hard for them to draw a map of our school; it was hard to get them to remember turning-points in their lives; it was hard to get them to discover what makes them angry in the world.

It’s as if there has been a veil placed over them, and we are all trying to lift that veil. Could that image be helpful as an educator? Could it be that in a society where people have worn, and some continue to wear veils, that they figuratively and literally, have a veil obscuring things from them?

Could it be that in our world of American democracy we have an enhanced curiosity because we have treasured freedoms of expression? Could the teachers really be dictators in other schools acting like the Mr. Mc’Chokumchild of Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times?

I am working on a project with the librarian, and she asked me what I thought of our students. I said candidly, “When I work with them one-on-one I am energized. When I talk with them at mealtimes, I enjoy them. In class—well…it is taking time! I told her of my mantra: The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away. She smiled and said, “it is so rare in these schools for anyone to challenge the students. They are just little robots, and if we can excite them, we may fulfill His Majesty’s hopes.”

I mentioned that it can indeed be frustrating and discouraging, but I am one to stay the course and for me, hope spring eternal.

Miss Afaf, the librarian, asked, “do you know our word, inshallah?” I nodded that I certainly do know this word. She smiled at me, and said, “Keep inshallah in mind—because we can do nothing by ourselves.”

Another mark in the category of Giveth.